The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s Doctrine of Justification, by Stephen M. Cunha. Unicoi Tennessee, The Trinity Foundation. 118 pages. Softcover. ISBN978891777325. [Reviewed by Clay Spronk.]
Mr. Cunha wrote what makes up the main body of this book in 2008. At that time Mr. Cunha and his family were leaving Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, a congregation belonging to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination. He explains in the preface that his purpose was “to outline the reason for our family’s decision to leave that congregation” (p. 7). The reason Mr. Cunha and his family left this congregation, as it is explained in the book, is that Mr. Cunha is convinced that an elder of the congregation, Dr. Richard Gaffin, has publicly taught and endorsed views that “[undermine] the Biblical doctrine of justification” (p. 8). Mr. Cunha sent his explanation of Dr. Gaffin’s errors to the appropriate ruling body of the church, the Session and Diaconate of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.
In addition to explaining why he was leaving the congregation, he asked the Session to read his presentation of Gaffin’s errors and explain to him why he is wrong if it determined Gaffin’s views are orthodox. According to Mr. Cunha, the Session responded by asserting that “The Emperor Has No Clothes misunderstands and misrepresents Dr. Gaffin’s teaching on the doctrine of justification, while in the same breath refusing to interact in writing with its substance” (p. 8). In this reviewer’s opinion, it is a weakness of the book that it does not provide any more information about how this case was handled ecclesiastically, or whether Mr. Cunha made any appeals to broader ecclesiastical courts. One is left to assume Mr. Cunha was not happy with the Session’s decision and decided to publish The Emperor Has No Clothes so it can be read by a wider audience. It would have been helpful if the Session’s response was included as an appendix, along with other information about Mr. Cunha’s church membership.
This is an important book and a must read for anyone interested in the teachings of Dr. Richard Gaffin and in the state of the OPC denomination today.
The title, The Emperor Has No Clothes, is fitting. Mr. Cunha explains that he picked the title because it represents the way he sees himself. He writes, “…I do not have a seminary degree, am not an ordained officer in the church, and work in the business world. For these reasons, I am identifying myself as the boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story” (p. 7). Mr. Cunha denies the title was picked “…as a personal invective against Dr. Gaffin,” and does not apply the title to Gaffin. Yet, there are unmistakable parallels between Dr. Gaffin and the Emperor in Andersen’s story. Like the Emperor, Gaffin holds a place of prominence in the OPC. Dr. Gaffin taught at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia for over 40 years, and for many of those years was the chair of Systematic Theology at the Seminary. Like the Emperor, Gaffin has exposed himself publicly (metaphorically speaking). In addition to publishing his own erroneous views, Gaffin defended Norman Shepherd (the founding theologian of the Federal Vision heresy) for over 30 years and even endorsed Shepherd’s glaringly heretical book The Call of Grace, in 2000. Finally, like the Emperor in the story, Gaffin is surrounded by people, especially in the OPC, who are determined not to alert Gaffin to his folly and call him to his senses.
The comparison between the Emperor and Gaffin works because Mr. Cunha makes a convincing case against Gaffin. Mr. Cunha makes four charges against Dr. Gaffin, which are the titles of the four main chapters in the book. His charges are “Dr. Gaffin Teaches Believers Are, in One Sense, Still Under Condemnation; Dr. Gaffin Teaches Justification by Faith and Works; Dr. Gaffin Denies Absolute Law/Gospel Antithesis in Justification; Dr. Gaffin Endorses Mr. Shepherd’s Distinctive Covenant Theology.” Though the book could have been shortened, it is not a tedious read, and the length can be explained perhaps as the byproduct of a concerned member in the church working through important doctrines.
The important point is that Mr. Cunha successfully demonstrates and explains Dr. Gaffin’s errors. The first chapter quotes this statement from Dr. Gaffin: “in other words, the continuing mortality of believers, as the consequence of sin, has legal, forensic significance. Here, we should conclude, their bodily mortality is seen as the still present, yet unremoved penal consequence of sin” (emphasis is Mr. Cunha’s). Dr. Gaffin teaches here that the death of believers is in some way a punishment for sins. Mr. Cunha rightly judges this statement to be an error and that, in addition to other serious implications, “…means that the believer’s sufferings and death are joined with Jesus’ sufferings and death in payment for the believer’s sins” (p. 19). Dr. Gaffin’s teaching means that Jesus did not fully pay for sins by His death. I encourage the reader to pick up this book for Mr. Cunha’s explanation of the orthodox way to view the believer’s death.
In the second and most important chapter Mr. Cunha demonstrates that Gaffin teaches justification by faith and works. This chapter is not light reading, but it is well written and clear. It is not light reading because Dr. Gaffin’s error is subtle and requires close scrutiny. Mr. Cunha is forced to deal with important distinctions. One who reads this chapter will be rewarded with instruction on the difference between the basis of justification, the instrument of justification, and theevidence of justification. The Reformed faith confesses that faith is alone the instrument of justification. Good works that flow out of faith are only the evidence of justification. Mr. Cunha argues, convincingly in my opinion, that Dr. Gaffin uses the word “integral” to modify works in such a way that he makes works an additional instrument in justification. The import of this chapter is that it leads to the conclusion that Dr. Gaffin denies the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The last chapter is perhaps second in importance. In this chapter Mr. Cunha explains that Dr. Gaffin has not only failed to join the fight against false doctrine but has a long record of supporting others who teach heresy, notably Norman Shepherd. Though Cunha does not call attention to this fact in this chapter, he does make reference in an earlier chapter to another serious mark against Gaffin, that is, the fact that he defended the heretical elder John O. Kinnaird in 2002 (p. 49).¹ Gaffin has publicly defended two men who compromise the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Gaffin’s support for those who teach error, along with his own teachings, demonstrates that Gaffin is indeed an enemy of the truth of justification by faith alone. Cunha ought to be applauded for having the courage and willingness to bring this to light.
In addition to exposing Gaffin, Cunha exposes the OPC. The OPC is looked at by many as a fine, orthodox, conservative denomination. It is also viewed by many to have taken a stand against the Federal Vision and in particular against the Federal Vision’s erroneous doctrine of justification by faith and works. In support of the contention that the OPC has taken a stand against the Federal Vision’s doctrine of justification by faith and works, it is often pointed out that the OPC adopted a report on justification in 2004 that opposed the Federal Vision. However, there are facts that call into question whether the OPC has really taken a stand against the doctrine of justification by faith and works. One fact is that the OPC has never overturned its bad decision in the Kinnaird case. The second fact is that the OPC has never required that Dr. Gaffin confess he erred in his own teachings or in his support of the erroneous teachings of others. The OPC has been confronted with Dr. Gaffin’s errors and so far has decided to do nothing about them. The fourth fact is that Steven Cunha, a defender of the truth of justification by faith alone, has determined he cannot remain a member of the OPC denomination (a Google search indicates he has left the OPC). It is a sad commentary on a denomination when those who corrupt and confuse the doctrine of justification by faith alone are given sanctuary and those who stand for this cardinal truth are driven away. Mr. Cunha’s book sounds an important warning about Dr. Gaffin and the OPC that the church world needs to hear.
Mr. Cunha’s book is also important because it demonstrates the need for laypeople to be involved in doctrinal studies and discussions.
Preachers, theologians, and elders apparently have not been willing to expose Dr. Gaffin’s errors. This demonstrates the reality that sometimes the truth must be defended by the people of God in the pew. Mr. Cunha was willing and able to defend the truth. Mr. Cunha is obviously a reader. Mr. Cunha is obviously comfortable with doctrinal terms and distinctions. What about you? Do you read theology? Do you understand and study the cardinal doctrines of the church? Are you willing, but also able, to defend the truth? Some laypeople may not have Mr. Cunha’s abilities—he is even conversant to some degree with the Greek language. Nevertheless, all laypeople should be willing to put forth the effort Mr. Cunha did to know and to defend the truth.
Officebearers and laypeople will alike benefit from reading this book. I am not in full agreement with everything Mr. Cunha writes. For example, he seems to deny that there will be a judgment according to works. But, on the whole, the book is profitable reading.
Mr. Cunha loves the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This book is highly recommended to those who share that love with him.
¹ Those interested in the Kinnaird case can obtain information athttp://www.trinityfoundation.org/kinnaird.php.